A Crucial Political Moment for Europe
A Crucial Political Moment for Europe
Theses of prominent Italian left-wing intellectuals on the war in Ukraine and the fate of European unity

1. The invasion of Ukraine is the Russian attempt to stamp out militarily under its iron heel the political process that began with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the progressive rapprochement between East and West, after the long “caesura” of the second half of the twentieth century — the reconstitution of a Europe that historically had been divided into multiple areas, but never brutally separated into East and West until the 1945-48 postwar settlement. The “solution” to this war can therefore only be found in the political shaping of Europe. A Russian victory would effectively freeze any prospect of a wider and more integrated Europe, even if only with threats, perhaps only anticipated threats, which would make (and in part has already made) the main question one of national identity for many countries along the borders of the old Iron Curtain.

2. At the moment, any discussion about peace (even one that is termed “just”) and diplomatic negotiations is nothing more than a linguistic framework for the concession of territories and the Russian takeover of Ukrainian sovereignty. These proposals would result in the implicit recognition of Putin’s rationalization of Russia’s aggression and of a threatening posture by Russia in the future. There is no “counterpart” — either military (a strengthening of NATO in Europe and of the national military apparatus) or economic (an enormous financial input for the reconstruction of what remains of the destroyed Ukraine) — to what would truly become the “political counter-history” of 1989 and its hopes, and the reduction of Europe to a mere geographical expression, with painful internal fractures and nationalistic reaction. In this way, the prospect of Russia’s ability to crush any desire for emancipation in Europe has materialized again, a century and a half after Marx’s predictions in his writings on Russia.

3. The destiny of Europe is at stake in Ukraine. So it is no accident that those who have never believed in a process of European construction and refoundation as an enormous area without wars, where the rights of workers and citizens can progressively strengthen, those who have made a nationalist creed of closing borders and stressing “differences” between citizens as their propaganda and politics, have taken sides increasingly and openly against Ukraine. And there are those who, on the contrary, claim to be spokespeople for an ecumenical world, and who are lining up with the far right as well as the far left, for whom Ukraine is a “pretext” for wider conflict, or a “proxy war”. The main target is Europe. A possible Europe. The war waged by Russia against Ukraine has therefore acted as a catalyst for all political positions against a real and possible Europe, reinforcing the “red and brown” front [the political alliance between far-left and far-right forces].

4. The permeability of these “arguments” depends entirely on the frailty of the European Union. A strong Europe, with a feeling of social cohesion, would not have given the slightest consideration to all those who since 24 February 2022 have been preaching a peace which means nothing but surrender. But this did not happen. And the weakness of the argument — entirely ideological and rhetorical but often used by pro-Ukrainians — about the clash between authoritarianism and democracy lies here. On the contrary, what is happening is that Ukraine, previously guilty of having resisted the aggression, has now become doubly guilty for its “counter-offensive that does not break through”. The buzzword now is “the situation is at a standstill”, and for this reason we need to move quickly towards a “just peace”, namely the transfer of territories. This leitmotif is sung by the right and the left, in defiance of any reasonable military consideration, which instead suggests that the Ukrainian counter-offensive should not be measured in the reconquest of kilometers. On the contrary, it should be measured by its ability to force Russia into a rigid defensive posture (excluding air terrorism); and then by the possible cutting of links between Crimea and other Russian territories. Today indifference, annoyance and intolerance are widely in evidence regarding Ukraine: the “Ukrainian question”, it is said, must be settled as soon as possible. Those holding these views join the urgency among sectors of capital to take part in financing reconstruction in Ukraine, and to resume trade with Russia, since — as another popular phrase has been repeating — “sanctions don’t work”. Removing them will be part of the “just peace”, with the associated revival of the flow of oil, in spite of the supposed “green” turn of European governments.

5. European governments, starting with Germany, were surprised and taken aback by the invasion: Russian gas was flowing in, everything seemed to be going normally according to the canons of that Ostpolitik which had shaped commercial and diplomatic relations for decades, to mutual benefit. German Ostpolitik had an entirely reasonable reason to exist as long as it faced the USSR, whose ruling group was interested in maintaining the status quo. However, it became a cause of blindness in the face of a Russian Federation whose ruling group is now animated by both neo-tsarist and neo-Stalinist impulses in a national-orthodox style. The warnings from American agencies about the massing of Russian troops at the borders were ignored because no one could, or wanted to, believe in an invasion — no one was prepared for such an event, not even in their heads. Furthermore, Europe had been hit hard by Covid and had laboriously adopted for the first time the decision to pool debts and loosen austerity, now unsustainable. From a political point of view, it was the moment of greatest uncertainty, of navigating unknown waters. If Putin’s initial blitz had been successful, with the breakthrough from the north towards Kyiv and the capture of Hostomel (Kyiv) airport, if Zelenskij and the government had fled, and a regime obedient to Moscow had been set up, it is likely that there would have been nothing more than loud protests and a controversial refugee reception plan. Ukraine would have become another Belarus. The European governments were surprised and taken aback by the Ukrainian resistance, the “imponderable factor” of this war. This was also demonstrably true of the US government, whose geopolitical concerns were above all about China, while the internal ones derived from the shock and aftermath of the attack of 6 January 2021 on Capitol Hill. It was also preoccupied by the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, leaving the country in the hands of the Taliban. Interestingly, this withdrawal took place about six months before the Russian attack on Ukraine — about the time it takes for the logistical organization of a military offensive. And Volodymyr Zelenskiy turned into the real symbol of a possible Europe.

6. It was only after Ukraine’s sudden and improvised resistance that the United States, Great Britain and Europe decided on financial and military support. But they immediately made two declarations: there would never be any of their boots on the battlefield and no Russian territory would be hit, triggering a spiral of total and nuclear war in an escalation to be avoided at all costs. The most obvious decision was immediate — not to establish a “no fly zone”, as in the Kurdish areas of Iraq, as the Ukrainians requested, but without even enjoining Moscow not to strike the Ukrainian hinterland. A support which risked immediately freezing the conflict in a war of position and attrition. This was an “unwilling” support: despite Biden’s first fiery declarations after the horrors of Bucha — Putin the butcher, the need for regime change — the United States has settled for a long-drawn-out involvement. Installing military aid which also requires training time, it relied relatively on the “counter-offensive” that the Ukrainians were confident would liberate the invaded territories. The US aimed for a global “politicization” and “economization” of the war, involving the whole world, starting with the UN, and increasing sanctions intended to exhaust and isolate Russia. But it never went beyond empty recommendations. The Americans had not taken into account the global political moment — that is, what we may call rampant nationalism.

7. Rampant nationalism, which in Europe is represented by the most aggressive right-wing elements, takes the form of “multilateralism” on the world stage: Modi’s India is ultra-nationalist, Xi’s China is ultra-nationalist, Putin’s Russia is ultra-nationalist — all absolutist and very stable regimes which hardly foretell a change of direction in the short term. Rampant nationalism — Chinese, Russian, Indian pride — is sometimes expressed in religious form: Hindu, Orthodox or Muslim among others. It is indeed the “glue” of their internal stability. For all of these regimes, Ukraine is a pretext: actually their main target is America. The United States had not taken into account the rampant nationalism in the world, whose political form is anti-Westernism, whose most specific form is anti-Americanism.

8. But this is not the “showdown” of the oppressed and colonized peoples against the long domination of the American empire. Anti-Westernism is today a backward-looking and reactionary sentiment, veering as it does, on the one hand into religious fundamentalism which takes the form of absolute dominion over bodies and minds; and, on the other, into a mysterious darkness, where intrigue and plots reign. Anti-Westernism today is a banal concept: it is enough to utter two hackneyed slogans against the so-called “single thought” (pensée unique or conformism to mainstream ideology) — no one really knows what this means — or against “neoliberalism”, a term that has the function Satan once had in the sermons of country parish priests. Everything is clear to these simpletons: “the West”, in the narrative of fundamentalism and the reactionary right, is too tolerant, too free, too feminized, too equalizing, too secular, too multi-ethnic, too debauched. And voilà. Sentiments that are arid in their poverty of analysis. Transitory factors, such as the State, government, economic regimes, become the “anthropological trait” of a people, and history becomes ethnicity: America is capitalism, the kingdom of Evil. There are no conflicts, no struggles, no social movements, no political differences: it is “all one thing”. To give a current example, the UAW went on strike in the US, simultaneously hitting Ford, General Motors, and even Stellantis (i.e. FIAT); the intellectual workers of the “gig economy” organized themselves into “guilds”, one of the ancient forms of workers’ organization, and are fighting against the big entertainment companies: no matter, the “campists” really don’t care. America is the “great Satan”, as the wicked soul of Ruhollah Khomeini liked to say. Conversely, everything that is not America or is against America has “good” qualities: maybe they are cutthroats, but they are “our” cutthroats. That’s what campism is, and there’s no way of escaping it.

9. The situation in the field is complex: falling back on a strictly defensive strategy, the Russians have mined everything, perhaps aiming not so much to slow down the Ukrainian counter-offensive as to mutilate its army: it is the “human factor” in a war that could take us back to Verdun. Some calculate that the Ukrainians’ “human reserves” will be exhausted in months, while the Russians, from the quantative point of view, can count on almost unlimited numbers, even if conscripts are not the decisive card in a war in which technology plays a crucial role. The Chinese learned this at their expense when they attacked Vietnam in 1979 and were defeated. And others even predict the “deadline” for the Ukrainian counter-offensive: they say that by December winter and the mud would slow down any possible advance, even though, as already mentioned, Ukraine’s success should not be measured in kilometers but in the ability to wear down Russian elite forces and reach the Sea of Azov. We are not military experts and we are not on the ground: here we are raising the political question of the war in Ukraine, starting from its enormity — because the war in Ukraine is an enormous fact of history. All the political and intellectual paraphernalia of the twentieth century has suddenly become obsolete, visibly obsolete in the face of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. The only one who seems to be aware of it and who devotes himself to “historical reasoning” is Putin. But, curiously, his speeches on the Great Mother Russia, on the errors of Bolshevism, on the rot of Western democracies and on the continuity of the tsarist empire are here considered unimportant. Really, that “package” of ideas which, biting the bullet of Ukraine, recommends fighting Putin’s will with realism — Realpolitik — is nothing more than “magical thinking”: it means relying on the “magic of peace” (a secular version of the “religion of peace”), hoping that it could work. Needless to say, this “peace”, including that desired by the Vatican, is very reminiscent of the “peace of cemeteries” of Tacitian memory.

10. The fundamental political issue raised by the Ukrainian war is Europe. A Europe which today is weak, fragile, indecisive, often backward-looking and therefore far from even its own founding principles. Only the growth of new social justice movements can take responsibility for the construction of a European space. This is the political challenge the war in Ukraine poses — and for this reason from the beginning we have been standing together with those representatives, movements, youth, women, trade unions, socialists, libertarians and radicals who, often even against their own principles, went to the front line or to the rear — it doesn’t matter which — to defend themselves from Russian aggression. This is the political and militant option, the “third way” between war and peace — transforming war into the founding act of the European Federation.

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A Crucial Political Moment for Europe
A Crucial Political Moment for Europe
Theses of prominent Italian left-wing intellectuals on the war in Ukraine and the fate of European unity

1. The invasion of Ukraine is the Russian attempt to stamp out militarily under its iron heel the political process that began with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the progressive rapprochement between East and West, after the long “caesura” of the second half of the twentieth century — the reconstitution of a Europe that historically had been divided into multiple areas, but never brutally separated into East and West until the 1945-48 postwar settlement. The “solution” to this war can therefore only be found in the political shaping of Europe. A Russian victory would effectively freeze any prospect of a wider and more integrated Europe, even if only with threats, perhaps only anticipated threats, which would make (and in part has already made) the main question one of national identity for many countries along the borders of the old Iron Curtain.

2. At the moment, any discussion about peace (even one that is termed “just”) and diplomatic negotiations is nothing more than a linguistic framework for the concession of territories and the Russian takeover of Ukrainian sovereignty. These proposals would result in the implicit recognition of Putin’s rationalization of Russia’s aggression and of a threatening posture by Russia in the future. There is no “counterpart” — either military (a strengthening of NATO in Europe and of the national military apparatus) or economic (an enormous financial input for the reconstruction of what remains of the destroyed Ukraine) — to what would truly become the “political counter-history” of 1989 and its hopes, and the reduction of Europe to a mere geographical expression, with painful internal fractures and nationalistic reaction. In this way, the prospect of Russia’s ability to crush any desire for emancipation in Europe has materialized again, a century and a half after Marx’s predictions in his writings on Russia.

3. The destiny of Europe is at stake in Ukraine. So it is no accident that those who have never believed in a process of European construction and refoundation as an enormous area without wars, where the rights of workers and citizens can progressively strengthen, those who have made a nationalist creed of closing borders and stressing “differences” between citizens as their propaganda and politics, have taken sides increasingly and openly against Ukraine. And there are those who, on the contrary, claim to be spokespeople for an ecumenical world, and who are lining up with the far right as well as the far left, for whom Ukraine is a “pretext” for wider conflict, or a “proxy war”. The main target is Europe. A possible Europe. The war waged by Russia against Ukraine has therefore acted as a catalyst for all political positions against a real and possible Europe, reinforcing the “red and brown” front [the political alliance between far-left and far-right forces].

4. The permeability of these “arguments” depends entirely on the frailty of the European Union. A strong Europe, with a feeling of social cohesion, would not have given the slightest consideration to all those who since 24 February 2022 have been preaching a peace which means nothing but surrender. But this did not happen. And the weakness of the argument — entirely ideological and rhetorical but often used by pro-Ukrainians — about the clash between authoritarianism and democracy lies here. On the contrary, what is happening is that Ukraine, previously guilty of having resisted the aggression, has now become doubly guilty for its “counter-offensive that does not break through”. The buzzword now is “the situation is at a standstill”, and for this reason we need to move quickly towards a “just peace”, namely the transfer of territories. This leitmotif is sung by the right and the left, in defiance of any reasonable military consideration, which instead suggests that the Ukrainian counter-offensive should not be measured in the reconquest of kilometers. On the contrary, it should be measured by its ability to force Russia into a rigid defensive posture (excluding air terrorism); and then by the possible cutting of links between Crimea and other Russian territories. Today indifference, annoyance and intolerance are widely in evidence regarding Ukraine: the “Ukrainian question”, it is said, must be settled as soon as possible. Those holding these views join the urgency among sectors of capital to take part in financing reconstruction in Ukraine, and to resume trade with Russia, since — as another popular phrase has been repeating — “sanctions don’t work”. Removing them will be part of the “just peace”, with the associated revival of the flow of oil, in spite of the supposed “green” turn of European governments.

5. European governments, starting with Germany, were surprised and taken aback by the invasion: Russian gas was flowing in, everything seemed to be going normally according to the canons of that Ostpolitik which had shaped commercial and diplomatic relations for decades, to mutual benefit. German Ostpolitik had an entirely reasonable reason to exist as long as it faced the USSR, whose ruling group was interested in maintaining the status quo. However, it became a cause of blindness in the face of a Russian Federation whose ruling group is now animated by both neo-tsarist and neo-Stalinist impulses in a national-orthodox style. The warnings from American agencies about the massing of Russian troops at the borders were ignored because no one could, or wanted to, believe in an invasion — no one was prepared for such an event, not even in their heads. Furthermore, Europe had been hit hard by Covid and had laboriously adopted for the first time the decision to pool debts and loosen austerity, now unsustainable. From a political point of view, it was the moment of greatest uncertainty, of navigating unknown waters. If Putin’s initial blitz had been successful, with the breakthrough from the north towards Kyiv and the capture of Hostomel (Kyiv) airport, if Zelenskij and the government had fled, and a regime obedient to Moscow had been set up, it is likely that there would have been nothing more than loud protests and a controversial refugee reception plan. Ukraine would have become another Belarus. The European governments were surprised and taken aback by the Ukrainian resistance, the “imponderable factor” of this war. This was also demonstrably true of the US government, whose geopolitical concerns were above all about China, while the internal ones derived from the shock and aftermath of the attack of 6 January 2021 on Capitol Hill. It was also preoccupied by the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, leaving the country in the hands of the Taliban. Interestingly, this withdrawal took place about six months before the Russian attack on Ukraine — about the time it takes for the logistical organization of a military offensive. And Volodymyr Zelenskiy turned into the real symbol of a possible Europe.

6. It was only after Ukraine’s sudden and improvised resistance that the United States, Great Britain and Europe decided on financial and military support. But they immediately made two declarations: there would never be any of their boots on the battlefield and no Russian territory would be hit, triggering a spiral of total and nuclear war in an escalation to be avoided at all costs. The most obvious decision was immediate — not to establish a “no fly zone”, as in the Kurdish areas of Iraq, as the Ukrainians requested, but without even enjoining Moscow not to strike the Ukrainian hinterland. A support which risked immediately freezing the conflict in a war of position and attrition. This was an “unwilling” support: despite Biden’s first fiery declarations after the horrors of Bucha — Putin the butcher, the need for regime change — the United States has settled for a long-drawn-out involvement. Installing military aid which also requires training time, it relied relatively on the “counter-offensive” that the Ukrainians were confident would liberate the invaded territories. The US aimed for a global “politicization” and “economization” of the war, involving the whole world, starting with the UN, and increasing sanctions intended to exhaust and isolate Russia. But it never went beyond empty recommendations. The Americans had not taken into account the global political moment — that is, what we may call rampant nationalism.

7. Rampant nationalism, which in Europe is represented by the most aggressive right-wing elements, takes the form of “multilateralism” on the world stage: Modi’s India is ultra-nationalist, Xi’s China is ultra-nationalist, Putin’s Russia is ultra-nationalist — all absolutist and very stable regimes which hardly foretell a change of direction in the short term. Rampant nationalism — Chinese, Russian, Indian pride — is sometimes expressed in religious form: Hindu, Orthodox or Muslim among others. It is indeed the “glue” of their internal stability. For all of these regimes, Ukraine is a pretext: actually their main target is America. The United States had not taken into account the rampant nationalism in the world, whose political form is anti-Westernism, whose most specific form is anti-Americanism.

8. But this is not the “showdown” of the oppressed and colonized peoples against the long domination of the American empire. Anti-Westernism is today a backward-looking and reactionary sentiment, veering as it does, on the one hand into religious fundamentalism which takes the form of absolute dominion over bodies and minds; and, on the other, into a mysterious darkness, where intrigue and plots reign. Anti-Westernism today is a banal concept: it is enough to utter two hackneyed slogans against the so-called “single thought” (pensée unique or conformism to mainstream ideology) — no one really knows what this means — or against “neoliberalism”, a term that has the function Satan once had in the sermons of country parish priests. Everything is clear to these simpletons: “the West”, in the narrative of fundamentalism and the reactionary right, is too tolerant, too free, too feminized, too equalizing, too secular, too multi-ethnic, too debauched. And voilà. Sentiments that are arid in their poverty of analysis. Transitory factors, such as the State, government, economic regimes, become the “anthropological trait” of a people, and history becomes ethnicity: America is capitalism, the kingdom of Evil. There are no conflicts, no struggles, no social movements, no political differences: it is “all one thing”. To give a current example, the UAW went on strike in the US, simultaneously hitting Ford, General Motors, and even Stellantis (i.e. FIAT); the intellectual workers of the “gig economy” organized themselves into “guilds”, one of the ancient forms of workers’ organization, and are fighting against the big entertainment companies: no matter, the “campists” really don’t care. America is the “great Satan”, as the wicked soul of Ruhollah Khomeini liked to say. Conversely, everything that is not America or is against America has “good” qualities: maybe they are cutthroats, but they are “our” cutthroats. That’s what campism is, and there’s no way of escaping it.

9. The situation in the field is complex: falling back on a strictly defensive strategy, the Russians have mined everything, perhaps aiming not so much to slow down the Ukrainian counter-offensive as to mutilate its army: it is the “human factor” in a war that could take us back to Verdun. Some calculate that the Ukrainians’ “human reserves” will be exhausted in months, while the Russians, from the quantative point of view, can count on almost unlimited numbers, even if conscripts are not the decisive card in a war in which technology plays a crucial role. The Chinese learned this at their expense when they attacked Vietnam in 1979 and were defeated. And others even predict the “deadline” for the Ukrainian counter-offensive: they say that by December winter and the mud would slow down any possible advance, even though, as already mentioned, Ukraine’s success should not be measured in kilometers but in the ability to wear down Russian elite forces and reach the Sea of Azov. We are not military experts and we are not on the ground: here we are raising the political question of the war in Ukraine, starting from its enormity — because the war in Ukraine is an enormous fact of history. All the political and intellectual paraphernalia of the twentieth century has suddenly become obsolete, visibly obsolete in the face of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. The only one who seems to be aware of it and who devotes himself to “historical reasoning” is Putin. But, curiously, his speeches on the Great Mother Russia, on the errors of Bolshevism, on the rot of Western democracies and on the continuity of the tsarist empire are here considered unimportant. Really, that “package” of ideas which, biting the bullet of Ukraine, recommends fighting Putin’s will with realism — Realpolitik — is nothing more than “magical thinking”: it means relying on the “magic of peace” (a secular version of the “religion of peace”), hoping that it could work. Needless to say, this “peace”, including that desired by the Vatican, is very reminiscent of the “peace of cemeteries” of Tacitian memory.

10. The fundamental political issue raised by the Ukrainian war is Europe. A Europe which today is weak, fragile, indecisive, often backward-looking and therefore far from even its own founding principles. Only the growth of new social justice movements can take responsibility for the construction of a European space. This is the political challenge the war in Ukraine poses — and for this reason from the beginning we have been standing together with those representatives, movements, youth, women, trade unions, socialists, libertarians and radicals who, often even against their own principles, went to the front line or to the rear — it doesn’t matter which — to defend themselves from Russian aggression. This is the political and militant option, the “third way” between war and peace — transforming war into the founding act of the European Federation.

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